April's TI Life listed Watch Island on the "Properties" page where we post important properties of the region that are for sale or seasonal rental. A few weeks earlier, I began creating my real estate property presentation webpage and suddenly I was deeply involved with the Walter Jerome Green Jr. family. The more I researched this island located between Clayton and Fisher's Landing in the main Seaway Channel, the more I realized how important it is to see beyond a photograph or a biography and how quickly one gets engrossed in Thousand Islands history.
The large summer home on Watch Island was built in 1903 by Walter Jerome Green, Jr. of Utica, NY. and remained in the family until 1998 when the Colangelo and Strine family purchased the island and began its restoration. It is truly a treasure of the Thousand Islands region that has ties to the early days of the Gilded Age.
I first learned that Walter Green's father, Walter Jerome Green Sr., was a prominent Utica banker as well as railroad man. He was a founder of the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad which successfully connected important fruit producing regions of Florida with the Northeast markets.
When Walter Green Sr. died at the young age of 42 in 1885 the railroad was sold to Henry M. Flagler. Anyone who studies Florida history can become consumed with material relating to the Flagers. Flager, who later completed the line all the way to Key West, was a Rockefeller partner in Standard Oil and known as the "Father of Miami and West Palm Beach". The proceeds of the sale were kept in trust for Green's young son (Walter, Jr.) who was only nine at the time of his father's death.
Walter Jerome Green Jr. had an impressive career of his own. He, like his father, became a prominent Banker but he was also employed by the Savage Arms Company for 25 years, and at one time was Vice President. He was President of Utica Investment Company, President Utica City National Bank and Director of First National Bank and Trust Company.
Knowing Walter Green lived in Utica, I visited that city in late winter and met with the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica. Landmark Society's are created in many towns and cities across the United states. They work tirelessly to research important buildings to capture the architectural history and the social character of a neighborhood. Often their research leads to nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Walter Green's residence is on the Historic Register.
Left: Number 1 Rutger Park. home of Water Green Jr. and Number 3 Rutger Park, home of Roscoe Conkling, Senator of New York. Both 1 and 3 Rutger Park are currently owned by the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica. The Society is looking into ways to restore and preserve both structures. Click here for details. Photos Courtesy of Landmarks Society of Greater Utica.
I learned that Water Green resided at 1 Rutger Park, which had previously been owned by Samuel Remington of Remington Arms. Walter Jr. lived in the house from age 4 (1880) years until his death in 1951. The Green's neighbor at Rutger Park was Roscoe Conkling, Senator from New York who was referred to as "The power behind the throne", referring to the Presidency of U. S. Grant, 1869-1877. Conkling was also personal friends and mentor of the 21st President of the United States Chester Arthur 1881-1885. Conkling's Mansion at Rutger Park was the location of important parties that were attended by the likes of Generals U.S. Grant, Sherman and Hooker of the Civil war who went on to careers in the Railroad industry and government service after the war.
The name Ulysses S. Grant, is familiar to historically minded Thousand Islanders as the catalyst that started a rush of development in the Thousand Islands region after he drew attention to it with his visit in August 1872. Also President Chester Arthur visited the Islands in 1882 with photographer Mathew Brady.
Walter Jerome Green was what Paul Malo would have referred to as a patrician - (member of original citizen family - according to Encyclopedia of Biography of New York, by Charles Elliott Fitch.) The Greens were related to General Nathanel Greene of Revolutionary war fame. Fitch also indicated the family has ties back to the Mayflower.
Mary Jane Hubbard Green (Walter Green's Jr.'s mother) was descended from Captain Abraham Swartwout who provided the blue from his cloak for the making of the first American Flag to fly from a colonial military post in battle. The flag was made at Fort Stanwix and was unfurled August 3, 1777.
Water Green's granddaughter married former Secretary of State James Baker. Baker led presidential campaigns for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W.H. Bush. The Bakers vacationed at Watch Island.
No research of the Thousand Islands is complete without watercraft. In early April (this year) I traveled to Clayton and visited with the Thousand Islands Museum. It was there I learned that Walter Jerome Green, Jr. was a popular sailor. He served as Rear Commodore of the Frontenac Yacht Club where he sailed his 75' Yacht named Verdi.
The ship was built in 1909 at Morris Heights, N.Y. by the Charles L. Seabury Company with engines built by the Gas Engine and Power Company. In June 1917 the US Navy acquired the boat and gave it the identification number: SP-979. It is listed in Naval records as "home ported during her civilian service at Clayton, NY on the St. Lawrence River." The Verdi (SP-979) was assigned section patrol duties with the 9th Naval District. She served in the Great Lakes through the armistice of 11 November 1918, which ended World War I, and was returned to her owner on 4 December 1918.
The Verdi continued to sail on the St. Lawrence until 1935 when she burned along with the boathouse at Watch Island.
In the course of researching Watch Island I've observed the close association between the men of industry from that era. It is apparent that many of the largest property owners of the region, George Boldt (Boldt Castle), Charles Emery (Calumet Castle), George Pullman (Castle Rest), Walter Green (Watch Island), Samuel Vandergrift (Long Rock Island), William Wyckoff (Carleton Villa) and Nathan Strauss (Cherry Island) all knew each other.
George Pullman hosted President U. S. Grant for a highly publicized visit to the Thousand Islands which spurred development to bring others from the inner circle that ran this country in those days. The study of Watch Island and Walter Green, Jr. is an interesting and well documented view of those inner circles.
By Mike Franklin MikeFranklin@ThousandIslandsLife.com
See www.WatchIslandClaytonNY.com for more details.
Special thanks for the cooperation in putting this story together by Landmarks Society of Greater Utica (Mike Bosak and Mike Kershaw) and the Thousand Islands Museum, Clayton, NY. (Peter Strouse and Norm Wagner)